When two grandparents, Elliott (Costner) and Rowena (Spencer), engage in a heated custody dispute over their beloved granddaughter, the ensuing legal battle forces them to confront their true feelings on race and forgiveness. Can people from two seemingly different worlds find common ground when nothing is as simple as black or white?
Kevin Costner has had quite the little come back over the last two years. His small performance in 'Man of Steel' was fantastic. Although 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' didn't do too well at the box office, Costner's father-like spy role within it was fantastic. 'Draft Day' was decent, but '3 Days to Kill' completely missed the mark. This years 'McFarland, USA' was much better than expected, but, unfortunately, 'Black or White' ended up being more like '3 Days to Kill' - although completely different genres, both are lackluster, unfocused and disengaged potential-filled pictures.
When you first hear the premise to 'Black or White,' it sounds completely generic and manipulative – as if it was written by the people who made 'The Blind Side' – but when you learn that it was based on a true story, it seems like it might be worthwhile. Unfortunately, true story or not, it's absolutely predictable and preachy.
'Black or White' starts off with a very emotional intro that actually ends up being quite strong. We meet Kevin Costner's character outside of the hospital room where someone has just died. We don't know exactly who passed, but a co-worker/best friend, played by Bill Burr, arrives to console him. It takes a while, but we eventually learn that Costner's wife died in a freak car accident. Now he must return home to break the news to the granddaughter that he and his wife raised since her birth – but instead of immediately doing so, he takes to the bottle for a little comfort.
It's mentioned that Costner's character doesn't drink much, but he used to drink a lot and his family doesn't approve. Despite his implied alcoholic history, he still has a large liquor cabinet with a wide variety alcohol and mixers. When he immediately dove into drinking, I began to question what the purpose of the movie was: the advertised titular "black or white" racial story or alcohol issues. The screenwriters also didn't seem to know which subject matter they wanted to push more, so it's ultimately a bad blend of both.
As if meant to build suspense, intrigue or mystery, the deeper we get into the movie the more we learn about its characters and their simple backstories. There's absolutely no reason why we should not have information right off the bat, but it holds the tiniest details as if they come with big reveals. One of such is the reason why the granddaughter was not raised by her mother. It turns out that she passed away during teenage child birth and the black father was nowhere to be found (not that they'd have wanted the druggy thug father to raise her). Up to this point, the beautiful girl has never met her biological father.
One thing that you'll recognize about 'Black or White' is that it doesn't spare any chance to preach. The main story focuses around Costner and the mother of the deadbeat father. The other grandmother (played by Octavia Spencer) does not want her grandchild to live alone with a rich white grandpa. Instead, she wants custody so that her granddaughter can be raised with her many cousin in South Central, Los Angeles. Although she's a hard-working, honest woman who doesn't use race as a crutch, her brother (played by Anthony Mackie) is the lawyer representing her in the custody hearing. His sole motivation is to use the "rich white card" to help his sister get what she wants. Not only do we get a heavy dose of the early-onset alcohol preachiness, but we get vast sums of race and social class hammering. I don't know that any true story is filled with as much moral debacle as what we get here.
The story unfolds in a predictable and clichéd way. Amidst those main storylines, the biological father comes out of left fields, claims to have cleaned up his life and also wants custody of his daughter. There's no big surprise as to where the story is going. You'll see the ending coming from a mile away, as if it was a Hallmark Channel production. Like a movie that was made directly for the mediocre TV network, I recommend skipping this Blu-ray entirely.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Relativity Media and Fox have placed 'Black or White' on a Region A 50-gig Blu-ray disc. A glossy cardboard slipcover accompanies the blue elite keepcase. Included in this combo pack is an Ultraviolet digital copy code. All of the trailers that play before the main menu are skippable.
'Black or White' carries a fairly nice 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Its sharpness is immediate. From the very opening scene, it's obvious that we are getting a very crisp and clear image thanks to the digital shoot. Fine lines, rich textures and great detail abound. Of all of Costner's recent pictures, 'Black or White' it is the one that reveals his age defining facial features the most. On the flipside, the granddaughters frizzy and full head of hair shows how sharp details can be for the younger characters too.
The palette is very warm, but can range from anywhere on the spectrum. Bright colors are very vibrant, even resulting in detail-chomping oversaturation. See the evening poolside scene for an example. As Costner sits in its glow, his face is entirely consumed by the loud hue. Contrast is mostly consist, but waivers on a few occasions and mildly turns should-be rich blacks into dark grays.
Crushing, aliasing, noise and artifacts are entirely absent.
'Black or White' comes with a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's more ambitious than most similar low-budget movies that don't typically warrant strong audio responses. The opening scenes show how great music can and should be mixed. Orchestral scoring and songs alike emit with fullness from all channels, creating a very nice dynamic that's warmly welcome.
Being set in bustling Southern California, the hum of traffic and overhead planes is frequent during outdoor scenes. Paired with prominent volume levels from the surround and rear channels, the active effects mixing works very well throughout the entire picture. Even the least expected environments are brought to life by the extra effort.
Although it comes off with slightly raw (and somewhat distorted) characteristics in a few specific scenes with raised voices, the vocal mix is also great. Costner and Mackie each have rich voices whose tones sound natural and smooth within the mix.
With a "based on a true story" promise-filled premise, 'Black or White' sorely misses the mark. The seemingly race-based child custody case is undermined by countless stereotypes and cliches, not to mention a few preachy side plots. Costner, Spencer and Mackie are capable of delivering powerful performances. While they each have strong moments here, they're invalidated by their disingenuous formulaic characters and obviously scripted dialog. The video and audio qualities are easily the strongest aspects of this entire cinematic presentation. Although it contains a solid making-of feature, the disc is light on special features. All around, this is one title worth skipping. There are many reasons why it came and went from theaters unnoticed.